Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Let's ChaCha

TechCrunch had an interesting post yesterday regarding a new search engine called ChaCha. This search engine works like a regular search engine and also provides and option to search with a guide. Yes, someone to chat with you while you search the Internet. A check of the search engine’s press page shows I am a bit late on the mark with this post as they debuted in September, but the premise is interesting.

Live help with searching is something libraries attempt via chat and instant messaging. OhioLINK's Chat with a Librarian service is a prime example of this endeavor. I have some experience using the OhioLINK Chat with a Librarian software and while it has improved significantly since its original debut, the software remains somewhat cumbersome. However, Chat with a Librarian does present opportunities during chat to push specific pages and a type of assisted search. It also offers something commercial search engines do not, an experienced librarian (without an agenda) to provide research assistance. I decided to try out ChaCha and see what type of results I could get.

I performed a ChaCha search, aka searching without a guide, for "library information science." After four tries, it timed out on the first three times, I got four pages of results. The first six were clearly marked sponsored, and four within the twenty first page returns were sponsored. Moving to the second page provided less sponsored links and slightly better information. Unfortunately, this indicates to me the quality of the returns is not particularly comprehensive as the results favor sponsors over searchers. The search screen provides a box of related search terms on the right that included links to library science schools, librarianship, library science graduate programs, Journal of Academic Librarianship, Library of Congress, library science degree, library science careers, and library professional journals. I would have linked to these terms, but ChaCha specifies you are only to link to their main page and not subsequent results Rounding out the page, displayed above the related searches, were quick links (ala Google) to Web, News, Images, Video, and Audio results for my initial Library Information Science Search.

I decided to try the same search using Search With Guide. It hooked up pretty quickly and I asked KarenB for information regarding schools that offer library and information science degrees. KarenB asked me if I wanted info information for schools in the US or the UK. I replied US and was transferred “to another guide who can help you search even better!” My second guide was Deboraha and I told her I had been transferred and was looking for library information science schools in the US. Five minutes later and I still do not have a response from Deboraha. In fact, she has not provided any information to me beyond her original canned message welcoming me to ChaCha and saying hello. After waiting a total of ten minutes, I cancelled the search and started again. I had an opportunity to rate Deboraha and her guided search; it was bad.

My second guide was TiaK. I was greeted with the same canned message, not a bad idea and one that OhioLINK Chat uses as well. I mentioned she was my third guide she asked about the first two. I gave a short synopsis and TiaK assured me she would find results more quickly. She did; it took her about three minutes to locate two results, one from the University of Illinois and the other from University of South Florida. When it took a bit longer, a bit of dead air space, I asked if she could target schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio. With this extra information, TiaK found ALA’s LIS Directory. The whole session took about seven minutes and without question TiaK got a better rating than Deboraha.

Naturally I became a bit curious about the guides and meandered through ChaCha’s site:

  • ChaCha’s privacy policy states:
"We value Guides greatly and they are essential to ChaCha, but they are not our employees. Guides are independent contractors, and we are not legally responsible for their actions."
  • ChaCha’s About Us page provides reasons for searching with a guide indicating:
    "By searching with a Guide your query is sent to a real person who is skilled at finding information on the internet and knowledgeable on the subject at hand so that you get the few exact results you want, not the millions of results you don't. ChaCha only provides quality, human approved results."
  • Also detailed within About Us is information regarding why users should trust their particular guide:

    "The primary reason is that we pay them and their pay is directly related to their performance. At the end of every session, you can select between one and five stars to rate their performance. While we expect you to be honest when rating a Guide, ChaCha can also detect any needlessly malicious ratings."

    "Another reason is that everybody knows a lot about something - ChaCha is able to connect you with the somebody who knows the something you want to know. Not only can they point you in the right direction, we've often found that communicating with a Guide can expand your general knowledge on the subject or even turn you on to new or different information that's even more relevant to what you're searching for."
Interested in becoming a guide? The posted qualifications are not all that stringent; in fact only seven criteria which include age (over 18), citizenship, spelling and English fluency, high speed internet, and ability to search the Internet are listed. Fortunately, Campus Technology reports there are further requirements of tests and questionnaires and a CNet article indicates there are different levels of guides "apprentice, pro, master, and elite" who will "earn reputations based on user ratings and how the system rates their performance" (CNet, 9/3/06) as the service progresses.

Overall I like the idea, but found the general search engine lacking. The guided search screen is user-friendly (wonder if they will market to libraries?), but the guides a bit frustrating. I would like to know more about who is doing the search and how they determine if the quality of results. I definitely do not like the sponsored links presented above others, but know that is how search engines make money.

Tags: , , , ,

No comments: